In This Lesson:

Drawing is a big topic, which is why we have several courses at Vitruvian dedicated to drawing alone. But drawing for painting is a unique application of our drawing process and is worth discussing in some detail.

Key Concepts

If We’re Going to Make a Painting, Why Draw With Pencil?

Making a painting is a complicated task. In the end, we’ll get better results if we take that complexity and break it down into a series of more manageable steps. In this way, we can arrive at a sophisticated end result without it ever feeling overwhelming or out of control.

Drawing is part of painting. Problems of composition, shape, proportion, and perspective arise when making artwork in any medium. How we choose to address those things is a matter of personal preference – but they do have to be addressed.

Since we’re making a painting in this course, it would be reasonable to assume that we should just draw with paint. Many artists do just that, executing some sort of underpainting directly on the empty canvas with a dark, fluid wash of color. A painting is a painting, after all, so why not execute it with paint from start to finish? This is a perfectly valid way to work, and if you’d prefer to do that here, I encourage you to give it a try.

But there’s a counter-argument to be made: drawing is difficult all on its own and might be more easily accomplished with materials made specifically for the task. Drawing well with brushes can be difficult – they can feel clumsy and unwieldy, particularly for students who are still learning to draw and are used to using pencils. So why not be clear about what we’re trying to do at this stage? We’re not actually painting yet, we’re drawing. Let’s use the best tools available for that purpose and draw the image with pencil and paper, then transfer that image to the panel later. This is the approach I’ve opted for in this course.

On Drawing for Painting

If you’ve taken any of our drawing courses before, you’re already familiar with our process for drawing at the studio. What we’ll be doing here is quite similar, but we’ll only be working in the preliminary, linear stages – the block-in and line-in.

This particular drawing only exists for one purpose: to be transferred to the panel. Transfers are linear because the transfer process is binary – either something is transferred, or it isn’t. There’s no easy way to make some parts of a transfer lighter or darker, and so we can’t really include much value work in the process. That’s why any drawing made for transfer is usually just a line drawing – why spend time on value development if it can’t be passed-on to the panel?

This doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no utility in doing some tonal work in the drawing. Think of the drawing as a kind of rehearsal for the painting, and doing a kind of “practice run” at form description with some elementary hatching on the page is entirely reasonable. It’s not necessary, but I do this in the demonstration, and you’re welcome to follow along. Just remember, that none of the tonal work you do on the drawing will carry over to the panel.

Click here to download Still Life Painting Module 4 PDF


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  1. David, I am trying to find a photo reference of still life so I can print it and draw. Which lesson is it attached to? I spent 25 mins searching for it and finally gave up. Could you point me in the right direction?

  2. Hi David

    Happy New Year 🙂

    Could you tell me what size drawing paper you used – i.e. g/m2. That will be helpful to know in order to choose the right thickness of paper for transferring the image to the paint surface.

    1. Hi Helle,

      In the course, I’m transferring using a printed copy of my drawing on no-frills copy paper (I don’t have a weight available for that paper, but I can tell you it’s the cheap stuff, so it’s pretty lightweight). My standard white drawing paper is Strathmore 400 series, 80lb weight (or 130g/m2). I’ve used it to transfer as well, and it works fine – just check your progress frequently as you go. Thicker paper tends to hold onto the transfer medium better, resulting in potentially less of it getting transferred to the panel.

  3. Hi David, I am delighted to have joined the still life course. Your thorough and clear approach is such a pleasure. Concerning the drawing process – is it possible to make the pencil drawing directly on the painting surface instead of doing a transfer? Is there any particular reason why you are not doing it in that way?

    1. Hi Helle,

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the course so far!

      The main argument for transferring your drawing is that you should anticipate needing to make corrections and revisions as you work. If you’re drawing directly on the panel, it’s a little harder to erase, so depending on how many mistakes you make, you could end up with a lot of graphite or charcoal on the painting ground. Then, when you do your underpainting , all that dark powder will mix with the fluid paint application and could muddy your colors noticeably.

      What I like about transferring instead is that you can make as many mistakes as you need to on the paper, but only the corrected line work will get transferred over to the panel. Since the transfer medium is oil paint, there will be no risk of dark drawing material corrupting your colors.

      Hope that makes sense!